Dogs — Matthew 15:21–28

The concern of Jesus — part 5

40 blogs of Lent — day 16

Interestingly the passage I am looking at today has mention of both sheep and dogs. Dogs have had a relationship with humans as herding, hunting and protecting animals for thousands of years. But as the book of Tobit shows, written between the tomes of the Old Testament and New Testament, dogs were also kept as pets at that time.

A black and white border collie sheepdog stands up to two sheep in a field, The sheep, heads lowered, stubbornly face back.
Sheep and sheepdog
Free image from Public Domain Images

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Matthew 15:21–28 ESV UK

When Jesus is introduces dogs into the conversation he would talking about working dogs, he has already mentioned sheep, however he used the diminutive of the word and would be saying either puppy or small breed. The woman is probably talking about a pet dog.

What was Jesus doing there? A good Jew like him should nor have been in Gentile territory, it would make him unclean. It should have been no surprise as Jesus has declared that all food is clean and is now in what was thought as unclean territory.

Things have been getting frantic. Jesus’ last attempt to withdraw from the crowds to Gentile territory had been unsuccessful, so this time he has gone further than just over the border. Jesus is deep into Gentile territory, getting away from the noise and the danger. This is one of the reasons that Christians practice Lent, the purpose is not to better your life but to recentre it on what is important, what matters the most: the one who gave his life to save us.

People have commented on how calling the Canaanite woman a dog was an insult. In Middle Eastern culture dog is still a strong insult. That sort of insult is typical of the sort of things the Jews would say about Gentiles. But Jesus’ statement is far from typical, referring to the Jews as the lost sheep of Israel. A Jew referring to his people as lost would be unusual and in front of a Gentile unheard of. The Jews were proud to call themselves the People of God, Jesus calls them lost.

The woman is described as a Canaanite. The Canaanites were the people in the land at the time of Moses. Matthew uses this description to show that she is emphatically not Jewish, then immediately flips that concept on it’s head. She comes to Jesus calling him O Lord, Son of David. By calling him Lord she subjugates herself taking the position of a servant or slave and by calling Jesus Son of David, a title of the Messiah, she recognises him as Messiah. Jesus is testing her, he can see her faith and is real but needs deepening. The woman’s persistence is shown by the disciple’s pleas for Jesus to send her away.

In the end the woman’s faith was tested and rewarded. This is one of two healings where the person asking us said to have great faith, the other one was a Roman Centurion in Matthew 6:5-13. Both were Gentiles. Both were healed at a distance.

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